August 2017


Galmaduwa: A Prayer Room for a Queen
August 2017




Skilfully crafted statues of timber and clay in the Viharage

The Galmaduwa Ancient Raja Maha Viharaya, a remnant of the Kandyan Kingdom, enthralls the historian and fascinates the visitor. Though considered unfinished, it is a splendid representation of the Island's diverse design heritage.


Words: Keshini de Silva | Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


In Kundasale, just minutes away from the Sri Dalada Maligawa is a monumental edifice surrounded by a rosy glow of mystery. Its pristine pyramidal tower with golden finials is very striking. The Galmaduwa Gedige, the especially remarkable element of the Galmaduwa Ancient Raja Maha Viharaya, originates from the Kandyan Era. The name ‘Galmaduwa' is coined from the Sinhalese expression‘ a hall made of stones', characteristic of the appearance of the structure.


Emulating both the Buddhist and Hindu architectural characteristics, the Galmaduwa Gedige was constructed during the reign of the monarch, King Kirthi Sri Raja Singha. This location is credited to the fact that, Kundasale, was an area frequented by the royalty. Its purpose, however is disputed, with many a folktale associated to the Gedige's origins. The most historically accepted is that, as the wives of the Kings of the Nayakar dynasty strictly followed the Hindu faith, it was built to be the prayer room of the Queen and Princesses. Hence, it is believed the chief consort of King Kirthi Sri Raja Singha had further obtained the plans for this structure from South India, while the assistance of Meegasthenna Adigar (King's Minister) was enlisted during construction. However, a claim of equal acclaim states, construction of the Galmaduwa Gedige had been halted as the villagers had alerted the King about the discovery of a cave in the vicinity. Therefore, although the structure of Galmaduwa had been constructed, the King is said to have decided to construct a temple near the caves, resulting in a creation that is today known as the Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara. Although, as 'The Book of Ceylon by Henry W Cave' notes, the stonework and masonry of the Galmaduwa Gedige is far superior and possibly was costlier, than that of the Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara. During the compilation of the Vihara Asna, a Kandyan Era book about the Buddhist centres of significance in Sri Lanka, Galmaduwa is indicated as being under construction.

The Galmaduwa Gedige, the especially remarkable element of the Galmaduwa Ancient Raja Maha Viharaya, originates from the Kandyan Era. The name ‘Galmaduwa’ is coined from the Sinhalese expression ‘ a hall made of stones’.


The distinct Galmaduwa Gedige design is one of great debate, with historians likening the structure to the architecture of ancient temples in Vijayanagara, India. It does indeed arouse one's curiosity, as Sir Archibald C Lawrie, a British Judge in Ceylon during the late 1800s, once said. The bottom of the Gedige is constructed true to Kandyan style, with fortified moldings similar to those seen at the Gadaladenyia and Lankathilaka Vihara. However, the pristine brick tower on top is likened to that of a gopuram, yet it is not quite, it is the roof of the chamber. This inner chamber was in the 1960s converted to a Buddhist Image House complete with an altar for devotees to offer flowers. Built in seven stages that culminate with a pyramidal shape, each stage of the tower has an ornament formed like a Dagoba with finials on every corner. When viewed from inside, delicate Buddhist art can be seen.


The surrounding stone wall has a thickness of three and a half feet and an overhanging cornice in typical Kandyan style. The stones, which feel eternal, are unlike anything found in the Island; they are glued together by a mortar of lime, bees honey and juice of the Ankenda or the Claw flowered laurel leaf. The windows and doors embed this Gedige with an aura of romantic regality. The semicircular cusped, arched windows consist of a keystone while the door to the inner chamber has two cusps and an ogee arch. Today a steel roof protects these stones from the forces of tropical nature.


The Viharage (Image House), east of the ancient edifice, unreservedly echoes Kandyan Era and Buddhist architecture. Constructed by villagers in the 1940s who could not fund the completion of the Gedige, it honours the philosophy of Buddhism while being a tribute to heritage Kandyan artistry. Inner walls are beautifully illustrated with paintings similar to those found in the central hills, inked in rich, bright, waxy colours. Apart from traditional liyawel and palapethi designs, the walls depict paintings of the Solosmasthana (16 sacred places of worship for Buddhists in Sri Lanka) and Buddha Sath Sathiya or the seven weeks after the Enlightenment of the Great Teacher. The early statues of the buddhas are believed to have a timber structure with a coating of clay. Later, a small Stupa had been built by the believers while more recently a larger Stupa has been constructed in Kandyan style.


Though historically an unfinished temple, the villagers have overtime ensured the Galmaduwa Ancient Raja Maha Viharaya is complete in every respect. Today, the decades old Bo Tree flourishes, reaching out towards the Galmaduwa Gedige; a distinctive structure, radiating a tranquil beauty.

  • image01
    image01

    The rosy hued Galmaduwa Gedige with its iconic, white pyramidal tower

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The inner chamber depicting superior Kandyan masonry

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Interior of the chamber and pyramidal-tower decorated with delicate, colourful art

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The Viharage is a tribute to vibrant Kandyan artistry

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A quaint Stupa built by villagers

    Prev Next